I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to spend three days in the Olympic National Forest (and National Park) last week with a group of Explorer West seventh graders. On a backpacking trip, we get to know each other in different ways. As always, I was so impressed with the students I hiked with. They powered up the trail with their heavy packs, and as soon as they got used to it, the complaints stopped, and the very silly songs and storytelling started. They showed appreciation for each other for how they saw each other work hard to help the group and keep things positive. They let me teach them very ridiculous games, and we laughed a lot. They took on so much responsibility, filtering water for one another, teaching each other to work the stoves, and preparing meals with care. Dishwashing in the backcountry? Well, those skills could still use some work. 😉
I know that for some students and families, our outdoor expeditions are a big part of the choice to come to Explorer West, while others choose to come here in spite of the trips! And no matter the enthusiasm level before a trip, it takes a lot of physical and emotional work to prepare for it and to get out there. But I’m so glad we do it. I know that many of our students have a hard time imagining a few days away from home, away from their electronic devices, away from some of their closest friends, or away from their favorite foods and their cozy beds. But what we get in return is really special, for me as much as for the kids. We impressed ourselves with how far we hiked, how much we carried, how much fun we had, and how we handled the moments that were not so much fun. We make mistakes, eat food that is not 100% dirt-free, and learn not to worry about what our hair looks like for a little while. We connect with each other and enjoy some incredibly beautiful scenery, even when it’s foggy or when it rains all night (just for our group!!! Everyone else stayed dry!). It’s freeing and empowering, and while it takes practice to get comfortable with it, I genuinely believe that our students look back on these experiences and say, like my group did, “Hey – I did that!! I hiked to Upper Lena Lake – that’s 14 miles round trip and an elevation gain of almost 4000 feet! What else can I do?” I can’t wait to find out.